In this series of posts, we are seeking to learn God’s heart for the holidays in Deuteronomy 16, through three feasts he asks Israel to keep every year. In the previous few posts, God expresses his heart for remembering, and in this fifth and final post, we’re going to look at two more themes.
The second theme we see in Deuteronomy 16 is about Inclusion.
Did you notice a repeated phrase that described the Jewish feasts? Look at verses 11 and 14. Not only did these feasts include a person’s immediate family, but God also wanted them to include the alien, fatherless and widow! That is astounding. Why would God want their gatherings to include all these other people? He tells them. In verse 12, he wants them to remember that they used to be the aliens when they were slaves in Egypt, in a land that was not their own.
Lest we think this was just a teaching for Israel, Jesus talked about this in Matthew 25:31-46 where he says in no uncertain terms that his followers are to reach out to people on the margins of life. But the way he describes those on the margins is shocking, as he says that as much as we reach to include the stranger, the orphan, the prisoner, or the hungry, we are reaching out to him! And likewise, when we don’t reach out to those in need, we are neglecting him. In other words, we need to see people like aliens, orphans and widows not as a threat, not as scary, not as uncomfortable, but as an opportunity to express love to Jesus! Jesus’ brother James would write about this too, when he says in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” We Christians should be known for reaching out to those in need, including at the holidays.
Who are the people on the margins you can reach out to? Who can you invite to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas with you? I love the photo above not only because the table is set and ready for guests, but because of the writing on the chalkboard. Can you see it? It is Acts 2:46, which is a Bible verse describing how the first Christians, right after Pentecost, practiced being inclusive. It says, “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
I recently heard the story of a family that hosts Thanksgiving, inviting mentally disabled people from their community. What a wonderful way to apply this this teaching. God has a heart for people on the margins, and he wants us to include them in our lives, even in the celebrations that are traditionally focused on family.
The theme of inclusion leads right into the third theme which is Rejoicing.
We see rejoicing numerous times in Deuteronomy 16. Look at verses 11, 14 and 15. Three times God reveals his heart: he wanted his people to rejoice and feast. And specifically it is a rejoicing in the Lord for the blessings he has poured out on them. At our family holidays, then, we can purposefully focus our rejoicing on the Lord. With all the delicious food and sharing of gifts and traditional movies and sports, it can be very easy to give the Lord barely a mention.
Families, I encourage you to think about how you can purposefully include the Lord in your holiday celebrations. Church families can rejoice like this too. At most worship services, Faith Church has a time for sharing how God has been at work in our lives. I’m often a tad nervous about what people will share. Open mics can be free-wheeling, can’t they? But it is worth it because it gives us a chance to rejoice together!
We Christians, then, are to be people of rejoicing! I get it, life can sometimes be hard. It can be very easy to get grumpy, to complain. Ask the people around you, what are you known for? Grumpiness? Complaining? Negativity? Criticism? People of God, we are to be known for rejoicing! We are joy-filled people because God is so good. We have received his goodness, and we remember, we include others in our remembering and we rejoice.
So may yours be a church family that celebrates, even in the dark times, because of who God is and what he has done, and because of his constant presence in our lives. He has been faithful in the past and he is faithful in the present!